Flu Fighters

Survive the season by taking our immunity challenge

By Tannis McLaren and Bonnie McLachlan

So, you have a cold or the flu. You feel terrible, you had to miss work, there's nothing on TV and you have no one to whine to. While you are lying in your PJs surrounded by a mountain of used tissues and a pharmacy of medicines, read on to find out why and how to fight—and prevent, the flu.

Know thine enemy
There are differences between a cold and the flu. A cold is caused by a virus and is usually passed through hand-to-hand contact. The virus tends to land itself smack-dab in your head, thus the sneezing, stuffy nose, cough, headache, runny eyes and sore, scratchy throat. You will sometimes even get a mild increase in your body temperature by about 1 F.

The flu virus (there are many variations of it) tends to affect the whole body. When you catch the flu, you can thank those who sneeze, cough or talk near you because this is how it is transferred. The symptoms come within 12 hours to three days and you may experience weakness, tiredness, loss of appetite, muscle aches, headache, a cough and a high fever that may increase your normal body temperature by 2—3 F. These symptoms can last anywhere from five days to two weeks.

Arm yourself
Your best defence in beating the cold and flu season is to boost your immune system, which sends out an army of fighters when you are exposed to foreign invaders such as viruses.

Irrespective of genetics and your childhood nutrition, there are four key factors that help to maintain a strong immune system.
Hitting the snooze button. Shoot for 6–8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. This is the time your body repairs itself in order to go out and fight for you the next day.
Coping with stress. How well we cope with stressful situations affects the strength of our immune system. When we have positive thoughts and emotions, it is believed that we are more apt to prevent illness.
Vitamin C, an important nutrient to combat infections, is robbed from the body of smokers.
Eating well.
Much of the food many of us eat has been ground, processed, cooked, fried, baked, dehydrated and robbed of its nutrients. These foods are high in simple carbohydrates and hydrogenated oils—stressors on your immune system.
Load up on vegetables and fruit (not only because of their vitamins and minerals but also their antioxidant powers) and consume lots of immune-boosting garlic and onions (best if eaten raw).
• Eat more “good fats” found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, or supplement with flaxseed oil.
• Eat more of the complex type found in brown rice, oats and whole wheat.
Drink more liquids throughout the day: 6—8 glasses of water.
• Mix fresh fruit with plain, unsweetened yogurt at least three times per week. Yogurt contains a friendly bacteria called acidophilus and your body needs a lot of it to fight off the bad guys. (If, however, you do get sick, you should avoid dairy because it is mucus-producing.)

Natural Rx Though a positive, healthy lifestyle and good eating habits increase the amount of important nutrients available to your body, sometimes supplements are necessary. When buying supplements and herbs pay attention to the quality of the products. You should speak to a naturopathic doctor or a certified herbalist to find the best quality and proper dosages suited to you. Flu-fighters and immune system boosters include:
Vitamin C has long been known for its ability to help prevent a cold or flu. Higher doses, such as 3—5 grams, can be taken at the onset of feeling sick.
Vitamins A and E and selenium are also very important because they enhance immunity and work synergistically with vitamin C.
Zinc lozenges offer immune-fighting properties that can acutely and preventively fight a cold or flu.
Astragalus is a Chinese herb that may strengthen the immune system and is being used with cancer patients. It is used in the prevention phase but is not to be used during an actual cold or flu.
Echinacea has proven itself to be important in not only preventing but also treating colds and flus.

Quick Tips So you've taken our advice for boosting your immune system, but still feel under the weather? Here are some remedies:
• Soothe a sore throat with slippery-elm lozenges or sip on some marshmallow-root tea.
• If you have a cold in your nose, sip on a cup of peppermint tea. Or put a few drops of eucalyptus and rosemary oil in a bowl of steaming water, then place your head over the bowl and cover with a towel to keep in the vapours. Inhale, but don't burn yourself.
• A good combination for a cough includes the herbs coltsfoot, white horehound and licorice.

The Flu-Shot Debate There are many different strains of the flu virus and existing viruses constantly mutate. Every year, federal health officials try to predict which three strains of the virus will hit Canada. Based on that guess, the next year's flu vaccine is prepared. The vaccine only gives temporary immunity against those three specific viruses, therefore it is suggested that you receive the shot every year.

Keep in mind that the flu shot is only for viruses and not illnesses caused by bacteria. Side effects such as fever, fatigue, painful joints and headache are common. They can begin within 12 hours of having the shot and can last several days.

If you are allergic to eggs, you should not have the flu shot because eggs are used in the labratory preparation of the vaccine. In very rare cases (one in a million), the most serious reaction associated with the flu vaccine is Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a nerve disorder characterized by muscle weakness, unsteady gait, numbness, tingling, pain and sometimes paralysis of one or more limbs or the face. The symptoms of GBS begin with numbness in your feet.

Finally, whether or not the shot actually works for everyone is still under debate. But Canadian health officials maintain that being vaccinated against the flu should be an annual necessity. The Ontario government now offers the flu vaccine to all residents free of charge—the only province to do so.

Books and websites with information on the flu shot:

The Immunization Decision and The Vaccine Guide (North Atlantic Books), both by Randall Neustaedter
Vaccination and Immunization: Dangers, Delusions and Alternatives (C.W. Daniel Co. Ltd.), by Leon Chaitow

Related Links:

Tannis McLaren is a practising naturopathic doctor in Oakville, Ont. (www.naturopathic.ca). She is a graduate of The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in Toronto. Bonnie McLachlan is a practising intern at the CCNM.

As published in Flare Magazine, December 2001

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